To the Editor:
Education Week‘s recent article, “Cooling Signs in Wake Debate,” (Feb. 23, 2011) repeated some misconceptions about the diversity policy that have contributed to a poor understanding of the policy’s goals and accomplishments. The article quotes Wake CARES founder Patrice Lee in claiming that no study had shown increased achievement under the diversity policy: “You can’t have it both ways,” Ms. Lee said. “You can’t say you’re busing to give [low-income students] a better opportunity if they’re not getting it.”
First of all, no one ever claimed that the diversity policy would solve the racial achievement gap, which is a national—not merely a local—problem. The goals of the diversity policy were to utilize facilities efficiently by filling up half-empty downtown schools and to encourage voluntary integration. Voluntary integration has many benefits, including, but not limited to, how students score on tests. Secondly, the diversity policy was an assignment policy, not a “busing” policy. Under the policy, the vast majority of students attended schools within five miles of their homes. Even the newly released Wake School Choice plan, which puts proximity at the top of its priority list, only shortens the average student bus ride by 0.24 miles. The reality is that children take buses to get to school.
Finally, the truth is there actually was significant improvement in closing the achievement gap between 1993 and 2003. During those years, the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and other students was reduced from 37.8 to 18.3 points. In addition, the dropout rate fell from 4.3 to 1.8 percent.
What Ms. Lee and other detractors of the diversity policy refuse to acknowledge is the role that population growth played in overburdening the system to the point that many of these academic gains were eroded. They also refuse to acknowledge that 81 percent of surveyed teachers disagreed with the abandonment of the diversity policy and 94 percent of surveyed parents were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their schools. As we move forward to find a new assignment policy, let us abandon the fallacy that student achievement and school diversity are each pursued at the other’s expense.
A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2011 edition of Education Week as Wake County Article Repeats Misconceptions